Spring beautifully -- and gently -- counsels us to be mindful of our mortality. This is sound advice. In fact, we are well-advised to consider our mortality on a daily basis, through all the seasons. I am not suggesting that we should brood over "the strumble/Of the hungry river of death" from morn to eventide. But an awareness of the shortness of our stay here provides a sense of perspective, and reminds us that we ought to be continually grateful for what the World bestows upon us, without our asking, each day.
Spring (like all the other seasons) teaches us gratitude, though the gratitude may at times have a wistful and bittersweet cast.
Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
Why do ye fall so fast?
Your date is not so past;
But you may stay yet here a while,
To blush and gently smile;
And go at last.
What, were ye born to be
An hour or half's delight;
And so to bid goodnight?
'Twas pity Nature brought ye forth
Merely to show your worth,
And lose you quite.
But you are lovely leaves, where we
May read how soon things have
Their end, though ne'r so brave:
And after they have shown their pride,
Like you a while: They glide
Into the grave.
Robert Herrick, Poem 467, Hesperides (1648).
"Death is the mother of beauty." (Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning.") What do blossoms do? They "stay yet here a while,/To blush and gently smile;/And go at last." What do "lovely leaves" do? "They glide/Into the grave." This is how the World works, and there is no reason to brood or to grieve. Our response should be gratitude. Gratitude and acceptance.
"Do not seek to have everything that happens happen as you wish, but wish for everything to happen as it actually does happen, and your life will be serene."
Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by W. A. Oldfather, 1928).
Lucien Pissarro, "The Garden Gate, Epping" (1894)
Alas, in this part of the world the daffodils and the tulips have nearly passed their prime. Many of the daffodils (golden yellow and creamy white) have begun to droop. Here and there, fallen tulip petals -- brightly-colored, sad things -- lie on the lawns and the sidewalks.
Still, as I have noted here in the past, the World has a way of providing us with compensations for its departures and losses. As the tulips and the daffodils begin to vanish, the leaves have begun to uncurl and open on the trees. From a distance, the stands of trees in the park that I walk through each day are enveloped in a light green haze of just-born leaves.
Fair daffadills, we weep to see
You haste away so soon:
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain'd his noon.
Until the hasting day
But to the Even-song;
And, having pray'd together, we
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a Spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or any thing.
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the Summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew
Ne'r to be found again.
Robert Herrick, Poem 316, Hesperides. "Daffadill" was the spelling used in Herrick's time.
Does the World perfectly balance itself? Do its compensations make up for its losses? That is not our concern. And, in any case, it is beyond our ken. Which is perfectly fine, and as it ought to be. However, as Herrick once again reminds us, there is at least one thing of which we can be sure.
Divination by a Daffadill
When a daffadill I see,
Hanging down his head t'wards me;
Guess I may, what I must be:
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead;
Lastly, safely buryed.
Robert Herrick, Poem 107, Ibid.
It is indeed a daffodil life that we live. This is something to remind ourselves of, but not lose sleep over. Gratitude, not grief.
"Trouble not yourself with wishing that things may be just as you would have them; but be well pleased that they should be just as they are, and then you will live easy."
Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by George Stanhope, 1741).
Lucien Pissarro, "Rade de Bormes" (1923)
Spring is not spring without a visit to this: "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now/Is hung with bloom along the bough . . ." I would only add that we mustn't forget the blossoms of the plum, pear, and apple: all equally breathtaking in their beauty, all equally heartbreaking in their transience.
The pale, delicate blossoms of fruit trees in spring and the brilliant leaves of autumn: it is through these gifts that I have arrived at my sense of life and of the World. I have no idea how this happened. Perhaps it is nothing more than an affinity for particular qualities of light and for particular colors. But, from these blossoms and leaves, I have come to know this: we live in a World of immanence. There is something that lies behind them and beyond them, reticent yet articulate, untouchable yet all-embracing.
To Cherry Blossoms
Ye may simper, blush, and smile,
And perfume the air a while:
But (sweet things) ye must be gone;
Fruit, ye know, is coming on:
Then, Ah! Then, where is your grace,
When as cherries come in place?
Robert Herrick, Poem 189, Hesperides.
Today I walked upon a white carpet of fallen petals. Six months from today I will walk upon a red, orange, and yellow carpet of fallen leaves. The path is the same.
"Require not things to happen as you wish; but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well."
Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by Elizabeth Carter, 1759).
Lucien Pissarro, "April, Epping" (1894)
Consider this: we live in a World in which white and pink petals flutter around us like snow. Where else would we wish to be?
Do not also the petals flutter down,
Just like that?
Issa (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 2: Spring (Hokuseido Press 1950), page 363.
On a blue-sky and white-cloud afternoon last week, as I came to the end of my walk, I heard a lone bird singing. It suddenly occurred to me: while I had been walking, wherever I had been, birds had been singing and chattering all around me the entire time. I was once again reminded: we live in Paradise.
"Don't seek that all that comes about should come about as you wish, but wish that everything that comes about should come about just as it does, and then you'll have a calm and happy life."
Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Section VIII (translated by Robin Hard, 2014).
Lucien Pissarro, "Mimosa, Lavandou" (1923)